Why You Still Don’t Have 10,000 Users

by David Pearce

You’re not really trying.

We are big proponents of the lean startup methodology at Differential. We preach it a lot. Find a problem. Build an MVP. Get users on it early. Talk to them. Then build what they want, not what you think they want.

This is right. The problem is that many entrepreneurs, particularly first time entrepreneurs, are using it as an excuse to avoid doing significant user acquisition work.

It usually goes something like this:

  1. Build an MVP.
  2. Promote it and get a few users.
  3. Talk to those users.
  4. Build what they tell you to build.
  5. Keep talking to them.
  6. Keep building….

I call this the lean trap. You’re stuck in a cycle now of talking and building and you still have only a few users. You justify it by saying you need to build these features before you can get more users. What? Why?

Stop building. Start selling.

I get it. Asking people to try your product is scary. User acquisition is hard. It’s tedious. It’s not fun. It’s much easier to keep talking to your first few users and build what they tell you to build. Eventually the product will get good enough and word will spread, right? No, wrong. You have to put a lot of effort into early user acquisition.

You shouldn’t even talk to your first users until you have at least 100 signups (minimum). Launching with a blog post and a few tweets, and then talking to your 10 users and building what they want isn’t smart or lean. It's a distraction.

Here's what happens. 5 or 6 of those users tell you to change something, or build something. So now you think you need to stop acquisition and change or fix this before you get more users. But those 5 or 6 people might only represent 10% of your total market. Then you just wasted your time, you could have been getting more users.

To be clear, I'm not saying don't talk to early users. I'm saying don't let 10 of them distract you from getting 100.

When you have 100 signups you should be able to determine one of two things. Either A.) they mostly all left and never came back, or B.) they are mostly still using your product.

If your problem is A, then talk to them, all of them. Why did they leave? Are they all saying the same thing? Fix it, fast. (100 is a good sample size. 10 is not.)

If you’re in the B boat, great! DON’T TALK TO THEM. If you ask them what they think, of course they want more, it’s an MVP. This is the beginning of the lean trap. A false problem you’ve created. Now you think you need to build what they want. But you don’t, they’re still using your product. Or you’ll tell yourself you need to build what they want because you don’t like doing user acquisition. Get over that, fast.

Do user acquisition.

Blog, guest blog, join forums, be active on Twitter, send emails, do a referral program, throw flyers around town. Literally do whatever it takes. Be creative. Spend a few weeks, or months, where a majority of your time is user acquisition, or you’ll never get to 10,000 users.

Follow me on Twitter: @dapearce

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